Starkville junior Rodrigues Clark rambles for yardage with Pearl’s Demonte Holliman in pursuit.

OXFORD — A year ago Saturday, the much younger Pearl Pirates fiercely battled the Clinton Arrows and the great Cam Akers before Akers just proved too much. Final score: Clinton 49, Pearl 35.

“We’ll be back,” Pearl coach John Perry vowed.

On a crisp, cool, clear Friday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the Pirates made their coach a prophet. The Pirates scored late to defeat determined Starkville 21-17 for the State 6A championship.

Tylan Knight, an under-sized linebacker/running back made sure of it.

Rick Cleveland

“Tylan Knight was not going to let us lose this game tonight,” Perry said. “Tylan is the best player in this state. He’s the most clutch player in the state. When we need a play, he just makes it.”

Knight, all 5 feet, 8 inches and 178 pounds of him, scored the winning touchdown on a four-yard run right through the teeth of a stout Starkville defense. Normally a running back, he took the snap and just shot through a crease in the line.

Earlier in the drive, when the Pirates faced fourth down and two yards to go, Knight raced 18 yards, breaking through several would-be tacklers. The winning touchdown came with just one minute, six seconds left. There was still work to be done.

On the ensuing kickoff, Starkville ran a reverse and it looked as if the speedy Jalen Ware might turn the corner and possibly even go the distance. But Knight ran him down, grabbed him with his right arm and dragged him down at the Starkville 14-yard line.

It really did seem as if Knight decided the Pirates were not going to lose.

“He’s not very big, but what’s inside his chest is as big as this stadium,” said Pearl defensive coordinator Chase Carmody. “If some big school wises up and gives him a chance at the next level, they will look like geniuses.”

Pearl defenive coordinator Chris Carmody, right, and his proud grandfather, Jim “Big Nasty” Carmody.

If the name Carmody sounds familiar, it should. Carmody’s grandfather, Jim “Big Nasty” Carmody, is one of the most renowned defensive coaches in Mississippi history. He was part of some of the biggest victories in school history of Southern Miss, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

Said 31-year-old Chase Carmody, “I definitely want to live up to his legacy and that’s a big legacy to live up to.”

Nearby, his grandfather was watching the celebration, rarely taking his teary eyes off his grandson.

Was he proud?

“I’m so proud I’m standing here crying like a baby,” the man called Big Nasty said.

His grandson’s defense limited Starkville to just three second half points, four first downs and 80 yards of total offense.

Said 31-year-old Chase Carmody, “We made a couple of adjustments that helped.”

The main one was moving the mite-sized but muscular Knight from the strong side linebacker position to the other side of the line. It freed him up to make more plays. Knight finished with 10 tackles.

Young Carmody surely knows what his grandfather knew long ago. That is, great players make great coaches.

Knight had plenty of help. Quarterback Jake Smithart threw for 194 yards without an interception. Wide receiver Johnquarise Patterson caught 13 passes for 119 yards. The entire Pearl defense swarmed to the ball. It took all that for the 16-0 Pirates to remain undefeated.

Starkville, a young team playing under first-year Yellowjacket coach Chris Jones, led most of the way. Rugged running back Rodrigues Clark carried 29 times for 172 yards and both Starkville touchdowns, taking hit after hit after crushing hit from the Pirates.

“We’ve got a young team. We’ll live and learn and we’ll be back,” Jones vowed. “We lost to a more experienced team, but we’ll be back. Next year.”

Where have we heard that before?


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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.